"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com


In which an opera house gets an unusual gate-crasher. The "Ottawa Citizen," December 20, 1930:
LONDON (By mail) A ghost-floating over the heads of a thousand dancers at Covent Garden opera house one night recently brought the music to an abrupt stop, while Mr. Herman Darewski, the conductor, sank into a chair horrified, and the baton slipped from his fingers.

The light had been subdued for a waltz, and a rotating ball of mirrors in the center of the hall cast a thousand shimmering spots of light on the ceiling, walls, and floor.

"A ghostly figure in armor resembling Wagner's Siegfried suddenly emerged from the solid wall opposite the band," declared Mr. Darewski, "and floated just over the heads of the dancers right across the hall in the direction of the stage door, and then faded mysteriously into nothing.

"It is my custom while conducting my band to turn from side to side to watch the dancers. We had almost finished playing the waltz when I noticed my drummer had ceased to play and was staring fixedly with a look of horror across the hall.

"I glanced round and saw what for a moment I thought was a patch of light from the revolving ball. I bent forward aid saw that it was a clearly-defined figure of a man helmeted and in armor, which was moving slowly immediately over the heads of the dancers. I was so dumbfounded that I scarcely noticed that my band had stopped. The dancers stared in amazement around them; wondering what had happened. A number ran over to me, thinking that I had been taken suddenly ill, and at that moment the floating figure, which had almost reached the stage door, faded away.

"I felt weak from shock. Members of the band crowded round, and two of them told me that they, too, had seen the armored figure pass through the hall."

Mr. Darewski wiped his forehead and added, "Even now I can scarcely speak calmly about what I saw. I am still shaken and unnerved, and I am still fearful that the apparition may prove to be an omen of tragedy.

"It was lucky that the dancers were looking at me when the music stopped, and not at the back of the hall. I fear that if they had seen what 1 saw there would have been a panic."

It has been a common rumor for more than 100 years that Covent Garden theater is haunted. The ghost of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, whose "Rivals" and other famous plays were produced there, has from time to time been met with in various parts of the older portions of the structure. The appearance of Sheridan has been said to coincide with some incident of importance, and a former Duke of Bedford, who was freeholder of the theater, always dreaded to hear that Sheridan had been seen. Other London theaters which are supposed to have been haunted include Drury Lane, where the ghost of the famous Dan Leno was seen by Stanley Lupino, the comedian, many years after Leno's death; the Haymarket theater, where the ghost of the late J. C. Buckstone is stated to have been seen on more than one occasion; and the Royalty theater, which is said at times to be visited by the ghost of a "White Lady."

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Dead Pig War

Via historic-uk.com



It is, of course, common knowledge that one of the precipitating factors of World War I was the murder of Franz Ferdinand and his wife. However, it is largely forgotten that another cold-blooded assassination very nearly sparked an armed conflict between America and Great Britain.

This week, let us remember the Great Dead Pig War of 1859.

The main stage for our little drama was San Juan Island, just off the coast of Washington state. The Donation Land Claim Act of 1850 granted 160 acres of the island to any white male citizen over the age of 21. One of the men taking advantage of this bounty was one Lyman Cutler. Cutler's efforts to prospect for gold in California had ended in failure, and he saw San Juan as his second chance to strike it rich on the West Coast.

Although he didn't know it at the time, when Cutler arrived on the island in April 1859, he was walking into an international hornet's nest. Both the United States and Great Britain were claiming San Juan as their territory, which was seen as a vital military strategic point. This led to a very irritable state of affairs between American settlers and the British Hudson Bay Company, who ran a sheep ranch on the island. Cutler, as well as most of the Americans on the island, were also unaware that legally, the Donation Land Claim Act did not apply to disputed areas such as San Juan. They may have believed they were rightful landowners, but, in reality, they were just squatters.

The land claimed by Cutler just happened to be in the middle of an area used by the Bay Company as a sheep run. Resenting this latest example of what they saw as brazenly illegal encroachment by the Americans, the Company opted to simply ignore Cutler's presence and continue to use the land as they pleased.

Matters reached the crisis point on June 15, 1859, when Cutler was greeted by the sight of a pig owned by Bay Company employee Charles Griffin merrily foraging through the settler's potato patch. This was hardly the first time his garden had been raided by Griffin's pigs, and for Cutler, this was the last straw. He grabbed his rifle and shot the intruder dead.

The Bay Company was as thoroughly sick of the sight of Cutler as he was of them. They indignantly demanded $100 from him as compensation. Cutler told them to pound sand. The British called for Cutler's arrest. Insults and threats began to fly from both sides. It was a perilous moment in the relations between their two countries. It was a situation that called for an objective mediator, a calming presence offering clear thinking and exquisite tact.

Instead, what everyone got was General William S. Harney.



Harney was the commander of the U.S. Army's Oregon Department. When he arrived on the island a few weeks later, the Pig Assassination was at the top of the many complaints the American residents leveled against the British. Harney was a protege of Andrew Jackson, and fully shared his mentor's hot temper, impulsive nature, and fiery antipathy towards the British. He saw the incident as a perfect opportunity to settle a number of scores. He summoned a detachment of infantrymen from Fort Bellingham, led by the equally hotheaded Captain George Pickett. Harney and Pickett made it clear they were out to teach the Bay Company a lesson. "We'll make a Bunker Hill out of it," Pickett boasted. They considered San Juan to be American territory, under American laws, and they dared the British to make something of it.

The British did. They retaliated by sending three warships to the island, with guns pointed squarely at the American camp.

Both nations entered into a game of "chicken." The Americans responded to these ships by bringing in artillery and an additional 400 soldiers. The British answered this with two more warships. Fortunately, everyone lacked any higher authority to go any further, so they held off on actually firing any shots. The British Rear Admiral Robert Baynes moaned that he could not believe the two nations were going to war "over a squabble about a pig." Both sides merely stared each other down uneasily, hoping that their own show of force would intimidate the other into backing down.

This uncomfortable standoff lasted until September, when word of the conflict finally reached the American President, James Buchanan. He sent to San Juan General Winfeld Scott, a man with a reputation for wisely managing sticky diplomatic situations.

It was a wise move. Scott managed to negotiate a joint occupation of the island. Each nation had 100 of their troops occupying different ends of the island, with the tacit agreement to just stay well out of each other's way.

Once the provocative influences of Harney and Pickett had been removed, peace gradually returned to San Juan, with the representatives from both nations learning to live in harmony with each other. In 1872, the long-simmering issue of who owned the island was finally resolved, with the United States legally securing the territory.

What became of Griffin's other pigs seems to be lost to history. One would think the very least they deserved was a memorial statue.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Weekend Link Dump



This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Strange Company Riding Club!




What the hell was the Sword in the Stone?

Watch out for those second-hand mourning clothes!

The byways of Old London.

The life of Matilda of Flanders, aka "Mrs. William the Conqueror."

Jane Austen was not a fan of dentists.

That time Britain came out in droves to see a decomposed whale.  And keep your Royal Family jokes to yourself.

The life of the "Dandy King."

The NASA scientist who believes we've already found life on Mars.

Why Jim Buchanan begged to be hanged.  Fast.

In search of Chateaubriand.  The person, not the cut of meat.

Wager of law and the Elizabethan Star Chamber.

Scotland's "Falkirk Triangle."

This really might be more than you ever wanted to know about George Washington.

Thomas Edison's spirit phone.

The memoirs of the first English ambassador to India.

The Preston Poisoner.

Yes, they're still looking for Amelia Earhart.

Why we don't have the 1890 census.

The night Britain's Parliament burned down.

A look at pre-Peninsular War Spain.

An unsolved occult murder.

A brief history of dance halls.

A brief history of gnomes.

A brief history of menopause.

The execution of a Conventioner.

The first plays, and other theatrical links.

A 3,000 year old toolkit.

A barber is taken to court.

The hitchhiker killer of Santa Rosa.

The maps of Alexander von Humboldt.

The collapse of the Knickerbocker Theater.

The famed tragedian Edmund Keen.

A ghost in the archives.

Melanie had a little lamb...

The actor who was too sexy.

That's it for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at pig warfare. In the meantime, here's another autumn musical interlude:

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com


The love lives of some people are...complicated.

Especially when ghosts are involved. The "St. Louis Post-Dispatch," August 4, 1909:
Mrs. Bessie Mendelsohn of 4457A Cottage avenue said Wednesday she was feeling fine spiritually and otherwise, now that her divorce suit against Jacob Mendelsohn, who has a spirit affinity, is on its way to trial in the materialistic Circuit Court.

Spirits disembodied, not alcoholic; yet spirits as loquacious as liquor sometimes makes embodied beings came between the Mendelsohns a dozen years ago, after they had enjoyed 15 years of wedded life. Ever since then the spirits have been causing trouble in the Mendelsohn household.

When poverty comes In at the door, love files out the window. It's just the same way as to spirits, or perhaps different in that when the spirits fly in at the window, love walks out at the door. Such is the Mendelsohn experience.

Jacob Mendelsohn associated with spirits so much that in time he came to have a spirit affinity. Not to appear selfish, however, he announced that his wife also had a spirit affinity. There was a difference In the qualities of these affinities which made Mrs. Mendelsohn sufficiently curious to attend a seance and find out about her affinity, though she scoffs at spiritualism. Hers was Irish.

"My husband told me," she said to a Post-Dispatch reporter, "that my spirit affinity was an Irishman. We, you know, are not Irish. I thought I'd go to a seance and try to find out something about this affinity of mine, whom I never had met and didn't really want to meet, you know.

"So Jacob took me to a seance over In East St. Louis, about three months ago. Mrs. Kate Davis, a medium at 6535 Easton avenue, conducted the seance.

"When I asked her to call up my spirit affinity, she did so. A voice readily recognized by its brogue, though of course I couldn't see the spirit, talked to me. He said he was a very handsome Irishman and was much in love with me. Some day, he aid, he would marry me. I was quite pretty, my affinity told me, and far too good to remain the wife of Jacob Mendelsohn."

It was just after Mrs Mendelsohn met her affinity voice to voice that Mendelsohn walked out of the house and took up quarters in a carpenter shop at 70S North Third street, where he sleeps on a cot.

But It wasn't the spirit affinity that drove him away. He had no objection to that spirit interference between man and wife. He had a spirit affinity of his own, as he had assured his wife time and again. Jacob's affinity, he told Mrs. Mendelsohn, was a tall, slender, handsome blonde.

Mrs. Mendelsohn is short and heavy, with dark hair, and is past 50 years old. Jacob's shadowland love was young as well as willowy. Whether he expected some time to wed the willowy wraith, Mrs. Mendelsohn says she does not know. She was not jealous of the sweet young spirit no more than was Jacob jealous of the handsome Irish spook who wooed his wife.

Jacob left the house because his flesh-mate utterly refused to credit his spirit mate, because she laughed at the willowy blonde and asked him how he knew she was a golden-halred ghost when he'd never glimpsed her--merely heard her cooing, wooing voice issuing from the mediumistic cabinet of Mrs. Davis.

Mrs. Mendelsohn laughed also at her own affinity, the rich-brogued son of Erin, and told Jacob she couldn't marry outside the orthodox Jewish fold.

But Jacob apparently never worried as to racial matters in the spirit world. In fact, his spiritualistic affiliations, Mrs. Mendelsohn says, had wooed him away from his religion. Mendelsohn insisted that pork was fine food and demanded that it be served on the table. Mrs. Mendelsohn protested, and there a decidedly unspiritual dispute over his material matter.

"It's immaterial to me what you eat way from home, Jacob." said his wife, "but you eat no pork in this house."

So said the two married daughters of the Mendelsohns, who live with the mother and the two other married daughters, who live elsewhere. It was a matter of five married women against one married man, with a spook affinity on his hands, and that is why Jacob Mendelsohn walked out of his door and went to live In the carpenter shop.

"Oh. yes. said Mrs. Mendelsohn, after detailing these facts. "I forgot to tell you that I know the name of my spirit affinity. He told me himself. He's Patrick O'Brien."

"And what is the name of the shadowy blonde?" she was asked.

"Ah. Jacob never would tell me." she sighed.

After reading this article a second time, I couldn't help but wonder if Mr. Mendelsohn's real "affinity" was not his nameless blonde spirit, but the very corporeal Mrs. Kate Davis.

But then, I have a suspicious mind.

Monday, October 14, 2019

The Poltergeist in the Allotment Shed



Generally speaking, poltergeists are the bratty kids of the paranormal world. They create a lot of noise, cause some damage, and make obnoxious spectacles of themselves, but they are, on the whole, seemingly helpless to do any real harm. Their antics are tiresome, rather than evil.

On occasion, however, polts exhibit threatening, even fiendish behavior. Reading these accounts, one understands why our ancestors attributed such sinister visitations as the work of the Devil. One of the more well-known cases of such malevolent hauntings took place in Bromley, England, in the early 1970s. It is also, fortunately for paranormal researchers, among the more well-documented poltergeist accounts.

Of all the places where you would expect hellish forces to erupt, an allotment shed probably rests at the bottom of the list. The Kentish Garden Guild of Bromley, England consisted of three pensioners, Alfred Taylor, Tony Elms, and Clifford Jewiss, who managed two sheds in the city's Grove Park allotments, which they used to sell gardening supplies to other allotment holders. It was a modest little enterprise, run by the retirees mainly as a way of keeping active.

It was on April 26, 1973, that these sheds began inspiring something considerably weirder than flowers or vegetables. The three men were in one of the sheds when some strange powder suddenly hit the ceiling. Before the trio had time to digest this occurrence, a small jug on a shelf abruptly flew across the room. Jewiss picked up the jug and placed it a covered box. Instantly, the jug was...somehow...back on the floor.

Flying jugs are quite bad enough. Ones that teleport themselves through solid matter are really too much.

That was just the beginning of any number of unexplainable and increasingly disruptive incidents. Fertilizer would shoot out from its bin, spraying anyone in the vicinity. A seven-pound weight sailed through the air, circling Taylor's head menacingly. Any and all items in the sheds would be seen, as Taylor put it, "going round the hut like skittles." Bottles would mysteriously become unscrewed, and their contents dumped on the floor. Large amounts of fertilizers would vanish from their storage containers. Once, when Elms was about to drink coffee, he noticed--fortunately, just in the nick of time--that its contents had been replaced with fertilizer. Half-ton bags of fertilizer would move on their own accord. At times, the sheds themselves would shake as though an earthquake had hit. Coins would fly throughout the rooms. One of their customers, George Bentley, summarized the situation quite nicely: "There were some right queer goings on."

The men were not only baffled by these events, but increasingly frightened. They sensed that whatever was causing these phenomena was not just mischievous, but hostile. Unsurprisingly, they lost customers--who wants to shop for a rake only to be hit in the head with a bag of fertilizer?--and the trio began to fear their personal safety was threatened.

Elms decided to try fighting occult with occult. One night, after consulting with a group of "white magicians," he performed an exorcism in one of the sheds. Those waiting outside heard chaos. The walls thudded loudly, and the heavy iron door repeatedly swung open. When Elms finally staggered out, he was bruised and bloody from a cut on the head.

Next morning, when the men returned to the shed, they saw what the entity thought of their spiritual efforts. As one of the men said, it looked "as if it had been hit by a bomb." Items which had been on the shelves were now circling in the air. Creepiest of all, the sign of the cross was painted or scratched everywhere inside the shed--on walls, on chairs, on bins...everywhere.

The Thing--whatever it could be called--was laughing at them.

The poltergeist began pursuing the men even when they were nowhere near the sheds. Taylor was--in the presence of witnesses--tormented by the entity in his own home. On another occasion, when he was in an office building, he felt invisible hands give him a strong shove. It seemed that there was no getting away from the harassment.

In September 1973, Taylor contacted the Society for Psychical Research. Perhaps professional assistance could finally rid them of this costly--and dangerous--pest. Two Society members, Pauline Runnells and Manfred Cassirer, made several visits to the sheds, and immediately saw that this was no hoax. The poltergeist treated its guests to its whole bag of diabolical tricks. Items flew about the room or were suspended in mid-air, or simply inexplicably disappeared. Security bolts on the windows vanished before their eyes. The buildings shook from the force of violent blows on the walls. They witnessed the entity ripping Elms' shirt and sticking a saw down his back. Later, a flower bulb was forced into Elms' mouth. (For whatever reason, Elms seemed to be a particular focus of the spirit's wrath.) During one visit, money belonging to Elms vanished. Runnells asked the entity to return his cash. Two coins suddenly appeared from nowhere, hitting her on the head.

The presence of the psychic detectives seemed to inspire the entity to new heights of High Strangeness. The number "1659" suddenly appeared on a wood panel. This was followed by more automatic writing: a question mark, various random letters, the name of one of Alfred Taylor's friends.

Perhaps the eeriest features of the entire haunting came next. On a shelf, the impression of a child's face began to appear. Then, a piece of brass with "MN" stamped on it suddenly dropped on the floor. Nobody present had ever seen such an object before. And what did "MN" mean?

That was for the poltergeist to know and none of them to find out.

Two chemicals stored in the shed, white sulphite and brown Maxicrop, were used by the entity to outline a skull on the counter. It appeared almost instantly, too fast for human hands to create it. Then, the sinister face gradually vanished.

The whole unnerving business kept going for nearly two years--an unusually long time for poltergeist visitations--until it suddenly stopped as unaccountably as it had begun. It was noted that the activity ceased when work on a nearby block of garages had finished, but it's anyone's guess if there was any possible connection.

Everyone who visited the allotment sheds during those two hectic years agreed that something very strange went on, something that was not capable of being created by any human trickery. But what did create it, and why?

We'll almost certainly never know while we're on this side of the grave.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Weekend Link Dump



The host for this week's Link Dump was, according to the description for this series of 1940 photos, "Australia's Most Remarkable Cat."  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find out any more about this feline, but let us all pause and savor his/her undoubtedly impressive way with a bottle.










Via Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and courtesy ACP Magazines Ltd



Watch out for those haunted trains!

What the hell is the Box of Crazy?

The days when, instead of going to Disneyland, you took the kids to the morgue.

The days when Nancy Drew was banned.

The controversy over some Puerto Rican stones.

A prostitute who really knew her way around a mugshot.

Mammoths were around for a lot longer than you might think.

The link between feminism and "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

The death of a conspiracy theorist spawns... conspiracy theories.

The era of home theatricals.

Two bad brothers.

The colorful life of a figure skating pioneer.

Crystal chandeliers and the Shah of Persia.

Mysterious Latvian stones.

The world of Early Modern murder mysteries.

The Great Tango Craze.

The last witch to be executed in Austria.

Modern technology reveals ancient writings.

A Nazi sympathizer writes about the black arts.

The Lincolnshire vicar who really didn't think much of his flock.

Historians can't stop arguing about whether or not James Buchanan was gay.

A particularly gruesome unsolved occult murder.

Gambling with death.  Literally.

Grand Guignol a go-go, and other theatrical links.

Let's talk Sardinian throat singing.

A mysterious Saudi Arabian civilization.

A Bronze Age New York in Israel.

The poltergeist's pin cushion.

Why Catherine was the Great.

Joseph Dunninger and the spiritualist.

When you see those magic words, "boy with two skulls," you know you're looking at a Thomas Morris post.

Chaucer and alchemy.

The truth behind a startling footnote.

How the West got Chinese lilies.

A child-killing servant.

A look at Poe's final home.

A look at underwater unidentified objects.

A look at carrier pigeon blackmail.

Myths about medieval building.

Cries of London, 1913.

The banshee and the rector.

The remarkable dog of Fish Street Hill.

If you like chewing gum, thank an exiled Mexican General.

The folklore of Artificial Intelligence.

A gravestone for an arm.

Jane Austen's "fairy tale" brother.

Anyone remember the post I did about a haunted house winding up as the center of a lawsuit?  Well, here's your big chance to own it.

From bigamy to murder.

The ghosts of the Blue Mountains.

The life of Judith of Flanders.

The life of Rutherford Hayes.

More evidence that ancient humans got around much more than we think.

The end of the Richard Burgess gang.

Cats as...sanitary engineers.

The case of the Shadwell Forgeries.

That is all for this week. See you on Monday, when we'll talk gardening poltergeists. In the meantime, here's another autumn-themed song.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com


It's Mystery Flood time! Flying Mystery Floods! The "Los Angeles Times," August 31, 1979:
Fountain Valley - She stood in the hallway of her home with holes in the ceiling and floor, the rugs ripped up and a drill blasting away outside.

Sandy Johnson, looking the worse for wear, was setting the record straight.

The house was not haunted, she said. It never had been. There were no demons lurking in the woodwork. And none of the family's three daughters has any supernatural powers.

It was only water. Mrs. Johnson went into the next room and brought back a letter from an Irvine couple who would be wise not to show up at the Johnson doorstep. The letter said the couple were Christians, that they were praying for the Johnsons and that they would like to drop by and do some more praying.

Mrs. Johnson was not impressed. It was only water.

Then she told about a man who called and said he was an exorcist, that he would be glad to drop over and rid the house of the devil.

Mrs. Johnson was downright angry. It was only water.

"We haven't even been able to sit down to dinner for the last five days," she said. "People are calling from early in the morning until late at night. How would you like that?"

Obviously, Mrs. Johnson doesn't. Nor does the rest of the Johnson family, although they are not quite so vocal about their distaste for new-found notoriety.

The root of all this, obviously, is water.

About a month and a half ago, strange things started happening in the Johnson home. First, Bill Johnson, Sandy's husband, noticed some water around the dishwasher and he wiped it up. It reappeared.

"Then we began detecting water on the floor and ceiling, large puddles on the ceiling," he said.

"After about three or four days, we had some plumbing people in here. They started knocking holes in the ceiling but couldn't find anything.

"In the course of this, we happened to notice water flying through the air. It's for real and it's flying through the air."

Now, flying water is not your standard everyday occurrence. More and more plumbing people paraded through the house. The Fountain Valley public works director stopped by for a look, as did the city manager.

At one point, a geyser of water, which seemingly came from the concrete foundation, spewed up, knocked out a screen in the kitchen and splattered the curtains of the house next door.

Later, a volley of water hit a picture on the hallway wall and nearly knocked it off its nail.

Bill Johnson, in an effort to determine where the water was coming from, drilled several small holes in the kitchen and hall way. Then he drilled a bigger one near the sink, one about eight inches in diameter. He put a board over it. The board was knocked away from the hole. So he replaced the board with a heavy paint can, which was toppled by the force of the spray.

Eventually, the Johnsons' four-bedroom home began looking like a victim of extreme vandalism, and still the water kept coming, sometimes hot, sometimes cold.

"You can see the water materialize as it goes through the air," Bill Johnson said. "It's moving so fast, you can see it from five or six feet away, but you can't get out of the way."

Adding to the confusion, the Johnson home was soon filled with reporters, notified initially because the landlord, Royal Stowe, had just about gone the limit in finding a solution to the problem. He even went so far as to offer a $5,000 reward to anyone who could stop the water.

Then, along came Mel de Ford, a mustachioed Santa Ana plumber with a master's degree in engineering, who heard about the Johnson's dilemma from his company's bookkeeper. Thursday, he and another workman were at the Johnson home, drilling 10-foot-long holes under the house at a 22 1/2-degree angle. The 16 holes are 2 1/2 inches in diameter and De Ford's theory is that the house is like a cork in a tea kettle. Hydrostatic pressure builds up under the house and, seeking a release, it has permeated the concrete and emerges as a spray.

The pipes being fitted in the holes, he said, will be used to release the pressure from under the house. He guarantees his solution will work, but said he doesn't want the reward. The problem, he said, isn't new.

"I did the same thing to (actor) Cornel Wilde's house 15 years ago," he said.
Problem solved, you say? Plumber to the Stars triumphs over Water Spooks?

Read on. The "Times" carried a sequel on September 7, in which our water-logged family deals with the one thing more horrifying than Fortean Floods and a demolished house: Government bureaucracy.
With a sputter and a splat, the water came out of nowhere and splashed on the concrete of the hallway.

"There it goes again," said Mel de Ford. In seconds, he was down on his hands and knees in the kitchen, where the sputter and splat had come from, feeling the linoleum for damp spots.

The search led to a spot by the refrigerator, which was wet on both the side and top, and De Ford finally pinpointed what seemed to be the water source. There was no hole, no apparent way the water could have forced its way through the cracks in the tile. Yet there was no way of denying the sputter and splat and the puddle on the concrete.

The water had struck again in the continuing saga of this Fountain Valley home where nature has been playing funny tricks for the last two months.

To summarize: A week ago, Bill and Sandy Johnson, who live in the house, were in a blue funk. This unknown water source had turned their home, which they rent, into an oddball place.

At night, they would awaken and find themselves drenched with water. The water force was so strong that a large picture hanging in the hallway was nearly knocked off its nail. The rugs in the hallway had to be ripped out because they were soaked.

Bill Johnson started drilling holes in the floor to see if he could find the source of the mysterious water jets. Plumbers knocked holes in the ceiling for the same reason. The home became a shambles. People wrote asking permission to pray inside the house to rid it of water. A man offered to perform an exorcism. And Sandy Johnson indicated she was about to come unglued because of all the people tramping through the living room.

De Ford, a plumber, said he could rid the house of the water by drilling holes under the foundation, thus releasing hydrostatic pressure he believed was pushing water through concrete. From that beginning, De Ford has become one of the central figures in the story, spending much of his time at the Johnson home, to a point where his wife is complaining that he doesn't have enough time to fix two leaky faucets in their own home.

The holes were never completed because De Ford said he understood that the city did not want him to do anything just yet That was last week. Since then, an array of government officials have become involved in the case of the water-soaked house.

Tuesday, the Fountain Valley City Council ordered a report recommending action to correct the problem. City Atty. Thomas Woodruff told the council the city should determine whether water beneath the Johnson home is connected to the city water system, whether permits are needed to drill, what the impact of drilling would be on the underground water table and how the drilling might affect adjacent properties.

Wednesday, Philip Anthony, chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, paid a call at the Johnson home, accompanied by Jim Fairchild, a geologist with the Orange County Water District. De Ford even called the governor's office in an attempt to expedite a solution to the problem. The result of all this will be known in the next episode.

Wayne Osborne, the Fountain Valley director of public works, said the city needs more information before it can undertake a major project.

Anthony said in a telephone call to De Ford Thursday that he was willing to offer county help in pinpointing the problem.

"I think that by tomorrow, we should have the people lined up," Anthony told De Ford.

Fairchild said he wanted to spend some time at the Johnson home, even if it meant doing it on his own time.

"I'd like to spend some more time on it and see some of those spurts of water myself," he said.

And, as for the Johnsons, the blue funk has pretty much passed them by as they have become more attuned to their sudden fame and the attention of governmental leaders.

"Right now, we're caught up in the political machine," said Bill Johnson.

And, yes, savor the delightful supernatural wit that had all this taking place in "Fountain Valley," California.

For whatever reason, the story disappeared from the newspapers after this, so I cannot say how the problem was resolved. If this was like typical Mystery Floods, the water soon dried up as suddenly and inexplicably as it started.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Murder by Astrology

Roseberg News-Review, September 7, 1923, via Newspapers.com



People have differing opinions about astrology. To some, it is ridiculous quackery, of interest only to con artists and the gullible. Others see it as innocent amusement; not to be taken altogether seriously, perhaps, but still worth the trouble of checking your horoscope each day in the newspaper. To others, it is a serious science that, when practiced correctly, does not only reveal personality traits, but gives a road map to one's future life.

It's not every day that you come across someone who also saw it as a murder weapon.

Meet the family of Bandon, Oregon chiropractor Fred Covell and his fourth wife, Ebba (the first two Mrs. Covells died and the third did a runner.) Living with them were 16 year old Alton and 14 year old Lucille, Fred's children from his third marriage, and Fred's forty-seven year old brother Arthur. It could not be called a cheery family. Both Alton and Lucille were mentally disabled. In December 1920, Arthur's back had been broken in an auto accident, leaving his lower body permanently paralyzed. He seldom left his bedroom.

Knoxville Journal, January 18, 1948


Whatever one could say about Arthur Covell--and, as you will learn, one could say plenty--he was far from a stupid man. He had used his involuntary leisure time to teach himself astrology and the art of making horoscopes. He used this skill to build up a highly successful business in mail-order horoscopes and fortune-telling. (According to at least one report, his client list included Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor. If true, it would be interesting to know what Covell predicted for his future.) Arthur made an eerie spectacle to those unfamiliar with him. He had a long, gaunt body, with deep-set black eyes and long dark beard set against pale, corpselike skin. Seeing him lying in bed, with all of his astrological paraphernalia strewn around him and charts of the heavens plastered over the bedroom walls, put people in mind of a medieval sorcerer in his lair.

Relations between this suburban John Dee and his sister-in-law were not good. Arthur had an irritatingly sardonic, sneering way about him, and Ebba deeply resented his presence in the household. According to Lucille, Mrs. Covell even complained about the amount of food Arthur ate. The tension led to frequent quarrels between Ebba and her husband.

Ebba Covell, Knoxville Journal, January 18, 1948


In short, the Covell home was a strained one. However, nobody knew just how strained it was until September 3, 1923. Around mid-day, Arthur used the telephone extension by his bedside to call his brother's office. "You better get home here fast," he told Fred. "The brats [Arthur's charming way of referring to his niece and nephew] tell me there's something wrong with Ebba."

This was quite the understatement. When Fred arrived home, he found his wife's corpse lying on her bed. When he asked his son for an explanation, Alton replied, "Dunno. I found her lying on the floor in the hall by the telephone when I came in from the barn."

"What's the matter with her, Pop?" asked Lucille.

"She's dead," Fred replied.

When Fred went to his brother's room to tell him the tragic news, he found that Arthur was completely unsurprised. "She's dead, ain't she, Fred?" said Arthur mockingly. "The kids wouldn't tell me. But the stars did. They always tell. Jupiter and Mars are adverse to the sun and Venus. That's a juxtaposition Ebba couldn't take."

When the police arrived, they soon came to a far more earthly conclusion about what had killed Ebba. They noted that Ebba's face was oddly mottled, with red marks running from her mouth and nostrils. They noted a bruise on her forehead. They noted that Fred was showing a curious haste to have his wife buried. They noted that Fred himself signed Ebba's death certificate, stating, "natural causes." They noted that Fred's alibi--that he had been at his office all day--could not be corroborated by anyone. In fact, Arthur told them that when he first called Fred's office, his brother was not there.

Law enforcement began to smell a husbandly rat. They got a judge to delay Ebba's burial, pending further investigation.

When police interviewed Ebba's nearest and dearest, they got precisely nowhere. Fred was listless and sullen. Alton and Lucille were equally uncommunicative. Arthur--who seemed to be getting an intense private amusement from the situation--did nothing but chatter about how the stars did Ebba in.

Alton Covell, New York Daily News, January 18, 1948


The post-mortem raised further suspicions. It found that Ebba's neck was dislocated, but not enough to have caused her death. There were bruises around her neck, but no evidence of actual strangulation. It was a mystery what caused the strange red, burn-like marks on her face. The coroner could not determine just what had killed Mrs. Covell, but he was certain it "wasn't natural." The inquest jury returned a verdict that Ebba died at the "hands of a person or persons unknown."

The police had a far easier time coming up with a suspect, by a simple process of elimination. It was obvious that Ebba had been killed--by whatever means--by someone in her family. It was impossible for the paralyzed Arthur to have done the deed. Alton and Lucille, detectives reasoned, were not mentally capable of carrying out what was obviously a sophisticated crime. That left only one person. Within an hour of the inquest's conclusion, a warrant was issued charging Fred Covell with the murder of his wife. Both he and Arthur were lodged in the county jail, while Alton and Lucille were sent to the county farm. (It was felt necessary to keep Fred's relatives in custody as material witnesses.) A second, more thorough, autopsy was done on Ebba, which finally revealed how she died. A cloth soaked in ammonia had been pressed against her mouth and nose, suffocating her. It was a diabolically clever method--if it had not been for the ammonia leaving those burn marks on her face, the authorities would never have been able to determine the cause of death, making a murder investigation nearly impossible.

Although detectives were certain that Fred was responsible for Ebba's death, they realized there was a discouraging lack of evidence to prove it. In the hopes of strengthening their case, a search was done of Fred's office and the Covell home. They indeed found the proof they were seeking, but it took them in another direction altogether--and it was the most bizarre and unexpected direction imaginable.

In Arthur's bedroom, they found a memorandum book, full of notations in the astrologer's handwriting. They were all in code, but in a simple one that was easily deciphered. Detectives were stunned when they realized what they were seeing. One entry read, "The moon in the house of trine Uranus. Ought to get $5,000 from Corson [a wealthy local citizen] for Wi and Peg back. Sign note K.K.K." Another referred to plans to have the family of a rich dairyman named E.J. Pressy die in a house fire, but "not before you take the doors and windows out of it to be used in my new house." Merchant Ira S. Sidwell was to "fall down stairs at store. Will have will and other papers in pocket." On every page, Arthur recorded plans to assassinate twenty-seven of Bandon's most prominent residents--automobile crashes, drownings, poisonings, every murder method in the book, and a few the book never even contemplated. He made careful calculations for the most propitious dates and times for these exterminations. It was an astrological diary of death. Investigators also found a stack of wills Arthur had forged, where his planned victims were described as leaving him or his agents all their worldly goods.

The date of Ebba Covell's demise was found over and over in the little book, with notations figuring out the most advantageous time of day for her murder. Near the end was an entry reading "6:20 a.m. Sept 3, Monday. Will Al do his part?" A subsequent entry: "Sept 3. Eleven a.m. Should have been 11:14."

When investigators confronted Arthur, he smirked. He was quite proud of his handiwork. "Heh, heh!" he chortled. "Found it, eh? Thought you'd want to know about it. Stars said you would." When asked what he meant by these sinister notations, Arthur replied contemptuously, "I wished things to happen to people. Got any law against wishing?"

The interview with Arthur left detectives angry and frustrated. It was clear he knew exactly what had happened to Ebba, but any attempts to get him to confess just brought on more astrological babblings. Police turned to Alton, who, they felt certain, was the "Al" Arthur hoped would "do his part." When questioned about the book, the boy almost instantly crumbled. "I did it for Uncle Arthur," he sobbed. "He made me and Lucille do anything he wanted. Bad things always seemed right when he talked to us. When he said do it we just did anything because it seemed the thing to do."

Alton readily provided a formal written statement. It said:
Uncle Arthur told me to buy a 10-cent bottle of ammonia. Then he told me we'd have to kill Ebba because she had learned something he wanted to do and she was going to tell Fred. It was something that would make us all rich and she would spoil his plans.

So, she was standing by the telephone when I came in. I put the cloth on her face and held her arms with my left arm around her. It took a long time. I don't know how long. I called Lucille and we got Ebba up on her bed. She was all limp and dead. Lucille threw the bottle down the gully. My uncle told her to. He told us what to say to Dad and the police, so we did. He said he would have a lot more work for me--kidnapping, setting fires, pushing people downstairs. All exciting.

When asked about all this, Lucille confirmed every detail of Alton's story. The teens felt a supernatural awe of their uncanny uncle. They were convinced he was a genuine wizard, and they did not dare contradict or defy him in any way. Even if it meant killing their stepmother and a sizable percentage of their neighbors.

When Arthur was informed that his niece and nephew had grassed on him, he scornfully told all. "The brats are telling the truth," he said scornfully. "I'd have been master of this county after Alton had killed a few good-for-nothings around here if I'd obeyed the stars. Shouldn't ever have worked up Ebba's horoscope on a day when the heavens were unfriendly to me. Made a simple mistake. Figured the wrong day and hour."

Arthur's sole regret was that he had mis-timed his sister-in-law's murder by fourteen minutes.

Coos Bay Times, October 9, 1923


Covell's murder trial began on November 5, 1924. Although his lawyers made vigorous efforts to save their client's quite worthless neck, the fact that all three participants in the murder had freely and fully confessed was a handicap Perry Mason couldn't have overcome. The star witness was Lucille Covell, who calmly explained in great detail how her uncle had enlisted Alton as his hit man. She giggled throughout her whole testimony, as if the whole matter was an excellent joke. The jury needed little time to deliver a verdict of guilty. Murder in the first degree, with a pointed lack of recommendation for mercy. On May 22, 1925, this strangest of would-be serial killers--with his final self-cast horoscope stuffed in the waistband of his pants--was brought to the gallows in a wheelchair and hanged. It was a particularly grim business. Arthur was so thin and frail, he was too lightweight for the noose to break his neck. For a full twenty-six minutes, his paralyzed body slowly strangled to death.

A horrible end, but arguably no worse than what he had planned for a great many innocent people.

New York Daily News, January 25, 1931


A few days after the end of Arthur's tribunal, Alton was tried on the same charges. He too was convicted, although the jury in his case recommended mercy. He was given a life term at the state penitentiary. In October 1932, he was released on a conditional pardon. Alton, so far as is known, led an uneventful life from then on until he died in Texas in 2002. Lucille was never tried, and her subsequent history is unknown.

After his execution, Arthur was cremated. As no one claimed his ashes, they are still stored at the Oregon State Hospital, a suitably macabre relic of one of history's most occult murder cases.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Weekend Link Dump



It's time for yet another Link Dump!

Everybody dance!




What the hell caused the Moon's largest crater?

What the hell do conductors do?

Who the hell murdered Nellie Byers?

First-hand accounts of the battle of Jena.

These may be the oldest bones in Britain.  (No, no, I'm not talking about the Queen.  Now, shut up.)

A scorned and insulted woman's revenge.

I'm not surprised by this story; every morning, coffee brings me back from the brink of the grave.

A look at Georgian sedan chairs.

Let's talk Victorian feral sewer hogs.

You can now buy Caligula's ring.

Garrick's Shakespeare Jubilee, and other theater-related links.

The origins of sea shanties.

Britain's Great Theater Ticket Riot.

An inscription from the final years of Pompeii.

A 19th century vicar speaks ill of the dead, to the delight of future historians.

The ghost of a doll.

Two political New York cats.

The man who declared war on Canada.

A woman's highly suspicious disappearance.

A look at some trials for "concealment of birth."

The disappearance of Glen and Bessie Hyde.  (Personally, I don't find the case very mysterious, but it's attracted an astonishing amount of folklore.)

Why a family collected human skulls.

19th century accidents on Rotten Row.

Grip, one of history's most famous ravens.

Neil Armstrong and the search for extraterrestrials...on this planet.

One of the strangest kidnapping cases.

How dance was used to deal with WWII.

Personally, I'd rather just drink coffee.

Detectives in the Victorian era.

A man with the habit of murdering his wives.

Queen Victoria's dogs.

The weird Crystal Skull of Belize.

A memorial service for a beloved supermarket cat.

Remember Balloon Boy?  Here's the complete story behind that hoax.

Your salad is a lot smarter than you think.

That wraps it up for this week. See you on Monday, when we'll look at a murder that could literally be called star-crossed. In the meantime, here's more autumn-themed music.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com


I suppose the headline pretty much says it all, but read on. The "Los Angeles Herald," January 21, 1910:
NEW YORK, Jan. 20.—Assistant Purser L.F. Lipscombe of the Royal Mail Packet steamship Orotava was in desperate straits last night. The curse foretold by the Obi woman, the seeress he had consulted many months ago in Hamilton, Bermuda, had come upon him. 
He had seen a white rat, not once, but three times, on the voyage, from the Summer lsle that ended here yesterday.

All of the 101 passengers know of the direful thing that menaced the assistant purser. All knew he must have that rat killed by a black tomcat that had not a single while hair. For had not the Obi woman said so? Mr. Lipscombe himself confirmed it and groaned as he did so.

"You will have good fortune," she told him, "until you see a wild white rat. When you do ill luck will follow you unless a perfectly black male cat kills the rat."

The assistant purser laughed with joy. His fortune teemed assured, for who ever heard of a wild white rat?

That was last summer, and the assistant purser's lucky star seemed on the ascendant until the Orotava was cutting the Atlantic two days ago. Then the rat appeared. It leaped on the table in front of Mr. Lipscombe, ran across it, jumped to the floor, scampered the length of the saloon and disappeared. The sight of that white rat spoiled the assistant purser's dinner. He sought the ship's cat, but alas! the animal's tail was tipped with white. It was such a tiny white speck in the very end of the tail that Mr. Lipscombe did not notice it until the cat made many futile efforts to catch the white rat that appeared twice on Sunday.

Then Mr. Lipscombe shut up the cat, fearing it would kill the rat, and to have the wrong sort of cat do that would be the worst of evils. He was moody when the ship berthed, and as soon as he could leave his duties and the sympathizing passengers he went ashore to look for an utterly black tomcat.

Purser Sturgess says he has not the least idea how that white rat came aboard the Orotava.
As is usually the case with the really good newspaper items, there was no follow-up to this story, so I have no idea how Mr. Lipscombe's travails ended.

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Body in the Hayrick

"Ottawa Journal," May 16, 1936, via Newspapers.com



If this goofy little blog of mine has a theme, it would be, "Life is weird." It fascinates me to find so many cases where utterly normal people are going about their utterly normal lives one moment, and in the next moment are suddenly plunged head-first into High Strangeness--often, permanently.

Take the now-forgotten case of Thomas Patteson Moss.

Moss was one of those people who seemed destined for a golden life. He was born into a wealthy and influential Canadian family. His father, John H. Moss, was a well-known Toronto barrister, and his grandfather had been Chief Justice of Ontario. His maternal grandfather, Thomas Patteson, was postmaster of Toronto, as well as the founder of the Ontario Jockey Club and editor of the "Toronto Mail." On both sides, Moss had a lineage both accomplished and highly respectable.

After being educated in his home country, Moss temporarily relocated to England. He began studying law at Oxford, after which he planned to return to Canada and be called to the Ontario bar. His classmates described Moss as likable, intelligent, and responsible: in the words of one friend, he was "an exceedingly fine and quiet young man, interested in his studies." Another contemporary later wrote of Moss, "I have a vivid impression of him from the few times when I did meet him. He was above all a scholar in the truest sense, and besides mastering his own subjects, he read a good deal and was a very interesting and amusing talker...He had a most lovable character." By all accounts, he was a sober, honest youth, not given to late hours or dissipation of any sort.

In 1936, the twenty-one year-old Moss was in his third year of studies at Balliol College. His time there was happy and successful, and the youth was looking forward to returning home and beginning what everyone assumed would be a fine legal career. To put it briefly, all seemed well.

At about 10:30 p.m. on the night of May 14, a friend saw Moss walking along Broad Street, in the direction of his lodgings at Oxford's Holywell Manor House Hostel. He was in his usual good spirits, and gave no indication of anything unusual. There was nothing to suggest that he would never be seen alive again.

About five hours later, a farmer in Stadhampton, a small, isolated village about ten miles south-east of Oxford, observed a hayrick burning in a nearby field. When he and some neighbors went to investigate, something quite unexpected and extremely horrifying was found in the ashes: a corpse, so badly charred as to be completely unrecognizable. Bits of paper found in the pockets, as well as a leather belt with a name engraved on it, enabled authorities to tentatively identify the body as that of Thomas Patteson Moss.

The local police immediately realized they had something extremely bizarre on their hands, and promptly called in assistance from London. Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the renowned Home Office pathologist, was given the task of doing the post-mortem. After the examination, he announced that he was unable to find a cause of death. There were no drugs or poison found in the body. The arms and skull had been fractured, but Spilsbury believed that was due to the intense heat of the fire. He found no other signs of pre-fire injury to the corpse. Spilsbury was also of the opinion that Moss had been alive, but presumably unconscious, when the fire started

All the obvious questions were asked: Presuming this was indeed young Moss, what on earth was he doing in a hayrick in a remote hamlet so far from his residence? How did the fire break out? Was it a case of accident, suicide, or murder, and how on earth could one come up with a logical explanation for any of those three possibilities?

The inquest primarily concerned itself with identifying the body. Moss' dentist examined the corpse's teeth, and testified that a distinctive broken tooth was identical with one Moss had had for some years. Friends identified the surviving bits of clothing as belonging to Moss. The laundry mark on the clothing was also positively his. Moss' watch, with the hands stopped at 2:10 a.m., had been found near the corpse. By such means, it was proved to the coroner's satisfaction that they were indeed dealing with the body of Thomas Moss. The jury ruled that he died from asphyxiation, but there was no evidence to show how he met his end. The young man was dead. Answering the question of how he died, was, unfortunately, a much more difficult matter.

Scotland Yard was utterly stumped. A minute search of Moss' past showed nothing at all abnormal. He had a wide circle of friends, and no enemies. He dated a few girls, but none of the relationships were serious. He had no history of depression. The police felt confident in dismissing the possibility of foul play or suicide. They believed it was a case of accidental death. Their theory--inasmuch as they could be said to have had one--was that in the middle of the night, Moss took it into his head to make a very long walk along unfamiliar country lanes to an obscure hamlet he had never before visited and had no reason to visit, then settled down to take a nap inside a hayrick. The hay then mysteriously burst into flames, asphyxiating him in his sleep.

A scenario which, frankly, seemed even stranger than any murder plot could possibly have been.

Thomas Moss' friends and family had likely always imagined that after a long and stellar career at the bar, he would peacefully pass away at a ripe old age, and then given a suitably elaborate funeral. Instead, before his life could be said to have really begun, he was quietly buried at the parish churchyard in North Leach, Gloucestershire, amid an air of sinister mystery.

On June 4, Mr. A. Lett, the Coroner for South Oxfordshire, told a reporter that while there was nothing about Moss' death to indicate foul play, "That does not say it was an accidental death." He added, "I very much question whether we shall get to the bottom of it."

Unfortunately, Lett's prediction was entirely correct.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Weekend Link Dump



It's time for the weekly Link Dump!

Let's dance!






Why the hell do ghosts wear clothes?

Watch out for the Cave of Death!

3,500 years of UFOs.

Have a bad cough?  Get the garlic and bacon ready!

If today's post just isn't enough for you, here's a theatrical link dump!

Just a reminder that Mozart could make today's most vulgar lyricists blush.

The internet's most mysterious song.

Diaries and sketchbooks as records of women's lives.

A mysterious ancient sword.

18th century female dentists.

So, you think Francis Drake landed in California?  Well, maybe not.

The woes of 19th century jurors.

The real-life adventures of the inspiration for a famous novel.

A look at the Thomas Cook company, which is now as dead as...Thomas Cook.

The outlaws of Inglewood Forest.

Ancient Egypt and Cinderella.

Theater censors in the 1930s.

Paris' 19th century Grief Factory.

When wearing mourning clothes can be overdone.

That time Jonathan Swift wrote advertising copy for wool.

The alchemy of gin.

When criminologists cook the books.

A particularly messy execution.

A mysterious attack in the Forest of Dean.

A medieval man's very bad historical "first."

Musical cheese.

This week's pro tip:  If a Greek revenant knocks on your door, don't answer.

The crimes of the Blonde Rattlesnake.

Venus might once have been habitable.

Autumn comes to Spitalfields.

This week in Russian Weird:  Russian Navy: 0  Walrus: 1.

Probably the world's most literary mastectomy.

A ghost and a lot of Thomases.

The crazy cat man of Forsyth Street.

The life of a medieval matriarch.

Fair warning: this is a story involving a sixty-foot snake.

WWI's haunted trenches.

How Celia Holloway came to be murdered by her husband.

That's it for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at a young man's extremely weird end. In the meantime, Van Morrison closes out the first WLD of autumn 2019: